Northeastern Junior College honored outstanding alumni and supporters of the institution at its 27th annual Hoops Homecoming Awards Luncheon Saturday.
“We’ve had a long and difficult journey through the pandemic and on this day we’re happy to be celebrating the fact that we can gather and have this opportunity to recognize and honor our most deserving NJC alumni,” said Mark Kokes, president of the NJC Alumni Association, adding that this group individuals “exemplify the excellence that NJC continues to strive for.”
It was a bittersweet day though, as it was the first awards banquet without longtime alumni director Jack Annan, who passed away last year. His presence was felt throughout the luncheon, however, as a large photograph of Annan stood watching over the proceedings while several of the award winners recalled fond memories of “Mr. NJC.”
Taking over as the executive director is Heather Brungardt who Kokes called a passionate Plainsman, incredible leader, organizer and a champion of NJC both past and present.
Several awards were handed out during the luncheon, including the Service Award, which is presented to an active member of the association who has demonstrated outstanding service toward the goals and accomplishments of the association through significant contributions of time and work. This year’s recipients were Betty Brunner and Carol Keil.
Brunner was born in Ann Arbor, Mich., and raised in Casselton, N.D. She graduated from Casselton High School in 1961. With a career interest in nursing, she attended Jamestown College in Jamestown, N.D. She graduated in 1965 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing.
She came to Sterling after graduation to begin as a staff nurse at Logan County Hospital. In 1967, she was hired as the coordinator of the Licensed Practical Nursing program at NJC. She had an interest in teaching and therefore, it seemed to be a great opportunity. Brunner continued as the coordinator for three years.
In 1973, she returned to the position of part-time instructor until she assumed the full-time instructor position in 1977. In the late 1980s, the current coordinator assumed a different position at the college and she again became the coordinator until her retirement in 2001.
During these years, Brunner did double time, earning a Master’s Degree in Nursing Education from the University of Colorado in 1992.
Shortly after her retirement, she was asked to teach at least one class each semester, part-time in the Practical Nursing and the Biology program. In the fall of 2005, Betty was asked to do the initial work in establishing an Associate Degree Nursing program at the college. Through her hard work and leadership, the college obtained approval from the State Board of Nursing and the Colorado Community College and Occupational Education System and began the program in the fall of 2006. In Jan. 2007, she began to teach medical surgical nursing in the new associate degree program for three years.
Over time, Betty added up 42 years of nursing education for NJC. She served as the coordinator and full-time instructor for 20 years and part-time instructor for the rest.
Over the years she taught medical-surgical nursing, pediatrics, pharmacology, pharmacological math, gerontology, medical terminology, maternal-child health nursing, mental health concepts and nursing fundamentals and nutrition.
During these years, Brunner also did home health for Sterling Regional MedCenter and was a nurse consultant for three daycares and one preschool.
Brunner also had many leadership positions in the nursing field. She ended up with quite a professional resume, serving on the Colorado State Board of Nursing for six years and as the president for two of those years. She was on the Colorado Council of Nurse Educators and president for two years for that organization. She served on the COPNES and was president for two years and treasurer for eight with that organization. She served as an NCLEX Item Writer, twice and assisted in preparing the exam to be used to upgrade Practical Nurses working in the gerontology area.
Brunner also assisted in the preparation of Colorado’s Nursing Articulation Agreement. She coordinated state clinical meetings in med-surge nursing, maternal-child health and psychiatric nursing and leadership. Plus, she was a member of the Colorado Nurses Association for ten years.
Brunner lives with her husband Mel in Sterling. Mel was a bricklayer in Sterling for many years and is now retired. They raised three children and have eight grandchildren.
Since she has finished her career at NJC, she has been a longtime, active member of the American Legion Auxiliary. She has also served as secretary and Girl’s State chairman for a number of years.
Brunner is also a very active member of the Trinity Lutheran Church. She has conducted two Bible studies for a number of years and also coordinates the Scripture Readers for Sunday Services. She also is a member of the Lutheran Woman’s Missionary League and has served as the president and secretary. She also has served as president of the northeast zone of the LWML. She currently serves as the nurse consultant for the early education program and also helps with the food program, as well as, serves as chairman of the Care and Concern Committee and is the funeral coordinator.
“Thank you for the honor,” Brunner said upon accepting her award, adding that she didn’t really think she deserved it but then she found out it was Annan’s idea. “I loved my years at NJC. My greatest joy from all of those years is those people I helped to educate, LPNs and APNs. When I go to the doctor’s office I still see people I helped educate.”
Keil graduated from NJC with her Associate of Arts Degree in 1979. She was recognized as the top non-transfer business student that year. After graduation, she was employed at Superior Fertilizer Company from 1980 to 1996 and worked up from the position of accounts payable clerk to controller for the company. She remembers enjoying break times over those years, sharing stories of her time at NJC with fellow co-workers and NJC graduates.
She became a non-traditional student in 1992, during the period of time that Regis University and NJC had a partnership, to assist adults in obtaining their bachelor degree without leaving Sterling. She mentions that this was well before the days of remote learning as we now know it. Keil graduated Summa Cum Laude from Regis University in 1994, with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration with a minor in Accounting.
Next on Keil’s list of achievements was to pass the Certified Public Accountants exam. She passed all four parts of the exam in Nov. of 1995 on her first attempt. She received the Colorado Society of CPA’s Bronze Medal Award for receiving the third highest score in the State of Colorado. Keil was especially proud of this accomplishment since all of her accounting classes, including those through Regis, were all taught by NJC instructors, on NJC’s campus. She remains very grateful to Mr. Sherman, Dr. Fackler, Brenda Lauer and Mike Lauer.
After passing her CPA exam, Keil worked for a CPA firm in Sidney, Neb., for almost a decade. Then in Dec. 2005, she started working at Johnson and Associates, CPA’s in Sterling. A few years later, so that she could more fully assist the firm’s clients, she earned the AICPA credential of Personal Financial Specialist. This is a series sixty-five exam, along with having to be certified and complete continuing education on specific financial planning topics.
All of her hard work over a full career within the accounting field helped Keil achieve being admitted as a shareholder at Johnson and Associates, CPA’s in Jan. of 2009.
Keil has also served as a director and treasurer for the Sterling Urban Renewal Authority since 2009.
She is currently looking forward to a transition to retirement in April of 2022. Keil and her husband will be moving to Tennessee to pursue their personal interests and hobbies. But, of course, she will still be working part-time, doing remote work for Johnson and Associates.
Keil said, “after all of the opportunities I was allowed because of my attendance at Northeastern Junior College, it was easy to say “yes” whenever I was asked to join a board at NJC.”
In 2011 she started her devotion of time to Northeastern. She was selected to serve on the NJC Advisory Council, a position she held until 2019. She was also the Advisory Council’s liaison to the NJC Foundation Board of Directors for this same time period.
She served on the NJC Alumni Association Board of Directors from 2012 until 2018, holding various offices and participating in a myriad of projects. Two of the more notable ones were the 2012 Campus Beautification Project and the Janna Korrey Memorial. Once Kiel had completed her time for the Advisory Council, she then joined the Board of Directors for the NJC Foundation as a true member. She has also served on several subcommittees within the Foundation Board and currently serves as the Foundation treasurer.
Keil will find herself in NJC’s history books, as she is one of only two people who have served on all three boards that NJC has to offer.
“This is truly an honor,” Keil said upon accepting the award. “It has truly been my honor to take what I learned inside of these walls and use it for NJC.”
Read more about the award winners in Tuesday’s Journal-Advocate.